Mothmen 1966 is the first in a series of what its creators, two Argentinian indie developers, call “pixel pulps”: visual novels with restrained color schemes reminiscent of 1980s computers, telling stories inspired by the genre pulp fiction just as sinister as a CGA monitor.
This one, with its cast of small-town Americans besieged by strange beings who appear during a meteor shower, evokes the stories you get in Stephen King anthologies like Skeleton Crew, or maybe an episode extra-violent from The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits. It’s twisty and short, and will punch you right in the face.
You bounce between the viewpoints of three protagonists, all grappling with secrets even before the Men in Black and the Mothmen show up. There’s Holt, the gas station hermit, who has a mysterious project he’s building out back; Lee, a young man with a lot of anger and problems with his father whom he tries to calm down; and his girlfriend Victoria, who has something she needs to tell Lee if only she can get the words across. There’s also Lou, a writer who knows all sorts of things about folklore and conspiracies, although sadly he’s not a playable character.
Over the course of a single night, these four are brought together and put to the test, via puzzles and mini-games that end in bloody deaths if you get it wrong. (Though not all of them are equally deadly, and there’s also a Solitaire variant you can play right from the menu, like in a Zachtronics game.) You might be called upon to hunt a pack of coyotes. , cross a parking lot a lot without getting trapped by mothmen, or rotate blocks to build a weapon.
Some of the puzzles are pure trial and error, and re-doing them becomes more of a trial than it should be as the only input is by selecting options from nested menus. You can do this with a mouse, but there’s never a way to just click on the illustration of the thing you want to interact with. Even when playing Solitaire, you laboriously move the cursor one card at a time by choosing left or right in the text.
The history and art are the real draw. If you’ve read John Keel’s The Mothman Prophecies, or watched Richard Gere’s terrible film (opens in a new tab) based on that, you might think you know where things are going, but Mothmen 1966 is an original take on this slice of West Virginia folklore. It throws in connections to what feels like a larger universe, which makes sense, given that it’s the first part of a volume that will include two more pixel pulps to come.
Next up will be Varney Lake, and there’s a substantial demo for that included with Mothmen 1966. It has more of a 1980s kids-on-bikes vibe and a different color scheme, and includes another Solitaire variant. These bonuses make up for Mothmen 1966’s short length a bit. It’ll likely take just over an hour to get to the good ending, a conclusion that leaves a lot of details unresolved.
While I can replay it to see all the results I missed and look for achievements like the one you get for dying in any way possible, Mothmen 1966 lacks that visual novel essential: a chapter select menu. . Although I’ve made a few saves at various times, and you can fast forward through the non-puzzle parts, this will prevent me from fully exploring it like I would with a Zero Escape or similar game. If brevity and minimal replayability are issues for you, maybe wait until the trilogy is complete.
The art is exceptional, however. With its limited blue, green, and red palette and Zip-A-Tone pixel shading, it manages to suggest a lot more than it shows. Characters are rendered in multiple levels of detail, from tiny sprites showing which character is currently being controlled and who is speaking, to moderately detailed but expressive profile pictures that appear in borders to show their current emotional state, and close-ups in the image. primary art which could be movie posters or comic books.
Like the pasta it’s inspired by, Mothmen 1966 may seem light and disposable, but just looking at its lush, sweet-smelling goosebumps makes you want to know more about what’s going on behind those covers.
You can find Mothmen 1966 on Steam (opens in a new tab). While you’re at it, check out the game jam project from creators Shark Riders (opens in a new tab).